IN Focus: Attorney general faces disciplinary complaint

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A lawyer for Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill is seeking to stop the possible appointment of a hearing officer or panel to weigh whether Hill committed professional misconduct when he allegedly drunkenly groped a lawmaker and three legislative staffers at a bar.

Hill’s legal counsel, Don Lundberg, filed a motion Wednesday with the Indiana Supreme Court declining those appointments.

The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission, in response, filed a motion Thursday with the high court, which would make any such appointments, calling for Lundberg’s motion to be denied and for the case to proceed.

A disciplinary complaint filed Tuesday by the commission — an agency of the high court staffed by citizens who are attorneys and non-attorneys — alleged Hill violated Indiana’s professional conduct rules for attorneys by allegedly groping the four women at an Indianapolis bar during a party.

The disciplinary commission said in its complaint that Hill “engaged in a pattern of misconduct” at that March 2018 party, where legislative staffers had gathered to celebrate of the end of the legislative session.

The commission asked the high court in a separate filing Tuesday to appoint a panel or hearing officer to review the allegations against Hill.

A special prosecutor declined in October to pursue criminal charges against Hill, who has denied wrongdoing .

Indiana’s high court will eventually determine whether any misconduct occurred and, if so, whether a sanction is appropriate. The most severe option it could impose would be to revoke Hill’s law license by disbarring him in the state.

Losing his state attorney’s license or having it suspended could threaten Hill’s position as attorney general because Indiana law specifies the attorney general must be “duly licensed to practice law in Indiana.”

The court’s other options include imposing short-term or long-term suspensions of Hill’s law license, public or private reprimands, or finding that no misconduct had occurred.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and other state officials called for Hill to resign after the allegations became public last July. But Republican leaders have shown no signs of taking action against Hill since the special prosecutor declined to pursue any criminal charges against him.

Lundberg’s filing argues, among other things, that in his recollection and belief “it is unprecedented” for the disciplinary commission to charge an attorney with a violating Indiana’s professional conduct rules after a prosecutor has declined to file criminal charges against that person.

Attorneys for the women have said they intend to sue Hill, the state of Indiana and the attorney general’s office.

Lundberg’s motion also alludes to that planned litigation by saying that it “is imprudent” for the commission to use its power of lawyer disciplinary proceedings to “seek an adjudication of factual and legal issues that may benefit the private interests of putative litigants against the State of Indiana.”

In its administrative finding, the disciplinary commission alleged that Hill committed misdemeanor battery against all four women and felony sexual battery against one of them when he allegedly touched her buttocks after she tried to halt his groping at the party.

Lundberg’s filing states that Indiana’s professional conduct rules require “that any alleged criminal conduct reflect adversely on a lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects” but his motion contends that “neither battery nor sexual battery is a crime of dishonesty or breach of trust.”

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